Greta Garbo and Victor Sjostrom

Monday, July 24, 2023

Scott Lord Swedish Silent Film: The Phantom Carriage (Korkarlen,Victor Sjostrom, 1920)

With the subtitles Sweden Strikes a Lyrical Note, Garbo is Lost and Found, and Sweden Studio is Re-Born, in 1947 author Leslie Wood, in her book Miracle of the Movies, note the contribution of Victor Sjostrom and his Film “The Phantom Carriage” to the aesthetic of silent filmmaking at a time when both he and Mauritz Stiller saw film mostly as an artistic expression rather than a money-making machine consisting of “angles” and formulas. “Made In 1920, the film was instrumental ink making countries outside of Sweden aware of the artistic scope of the Svenska Biograph organization. Their screen work was particularly brilliant. Natural light, even on interior settings was far ahead of the work achieved on open air stages elsewhere. Their technicians had the happy thought of building the sets on locations which would provide fine vistas of natural scenery when glimpses through open doors and windows and the shafts of sunlight falling into a room would be the real thing. With motes and breathtakingly beautiful because of its naturalness. Seastrom’s direction sometimes strained a little too much to include the beautifully simple and the simply beautiful- slow sheep toddling away at the approach of lovers, or the graceful movements making a servant in performing the everyday, ordinary rites of preparing breakfast in a sunlit kitchen.” Wood provides a thematic synopsis of the film with, "with an eerie forcefulness and an abscence of the macabre, an unconscious man sees the misery he has wrought".
The Victor Sjostrom film “The Phantom Carriage” was the first movie made at the Filmstaden studios at Rasunda, Sweden and it is evident that the Studio was designed for filming; the Little Studio, newly renovated and open to the public for tours, was comprised of rehearsal rooms and filmstudios, one on the top floor having a roof and walls made of glass to use daylight when filming, as well as a rotatating stage. A small cinema on the bottom floor has been named after Ingmar Bergman and has been kept as a screening room. Leslie Wood notes, "The Svensk studio, beside a lake at Rasunda and twenty minutes by train from Stockholm, was a large but simply arranged wooden building set amongst pine trees,,,its cloistered atmosphere."
Filmstaden was used by director Ingmar Bergman to make the images of silent film, and their extratextual context, come to life while filming “The Imagemakers” (“Bildmarkarna”) for Swedish Television during 2000. Also included within the play is a screening of “The Phantom Carriage”, it being an adaption of the writing of Per Olaf Enquist that transpires as interaction between Victor Sjostrom, novelist Selma Lagerlof, cameraman Julius Jaenzon and actress Tora Teje during the making of the film. One theme of the film is artistic authenticity, a theme well articulated by Ingmar Bergman during his films of the 1950’s. Actress Anita Bjork starred as Selma Lagerlof and actress Elin Klinga starred as Swedish Silent Film actress Tora Teje.
Anthony Battalgia recently for Film Comment explained the spatio-temporal structure of the film directed by Victor Sjostrom ,”It is hard to overstate the storytelling sophistication at work here: flashbacks fork off from stories in the act of being told, mixing tenses untill all Time seems in The here and now.”, which is fitting for the re-enactment of what he labels to be “nominally, a ghost story”.
Author Forsyth Hardy compliments director Victor Sjostrom own onscreen acting, its having been less historionic than in other films. “The exaggerated guestures of some of the early films had gone, but the intensity of feeling was still there.” Hardy characterizes the film as being "memorable".
The film stars actresses Hilda Borgstrom, whom had appeared in the films “Ingeborg Holm” (1913) and ”Domen Icke” (1914), both directed by Victor Sjostrom, Concordia Selander, who appeared in the film “Torsen Fran Stormyrtorpet” (1917), directed by Victor Sjostrom, Lisa Lundholm and actress Astrid Holm. Charles Magnusson produced the film. The multiple or layered double exposures were developed by cameraman Julius Jaenzon. Author Lars Gronkvist notes that after taking eight days to finish the script, Director Victor Sjostrom delivered, read and performed the script for two hours in front of novelist Selma Lagerlof before the two of them had dinner.

The film having being remade twice, first by Julien Duvivier in 1939, and by Swedish Film director Arne Mattson in 1958, author Aleksander Kwiatkoski, in his volume Swedish Film Classics, compares the subsequent versions to Victor Sjostrom's original adaptation of "Korkarlen", "None of the subsequent screen versions of Selma Lagerlof's novel has reached the power of expression of this one. Sjostrom's film is not as inventive in its psychological stratum but his social and moral interests are curiously interwoven with his personal experiences."

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